Home arrow Sermons arrow Sermons arrow July 22, 2018
July 22, 2018

Sermon Revelation 3:1-6 . . .“Bible places:  Sardis”

“Bible places:  Sardis”

Revelation 3:1-6

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

One day in November of 2002, Jim Sulkers, a 53-year-old retired municipal engineer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, climbed into his bed, pulled up the covers, and died.  It wasn’t a surprise.  For years, he had walked with a cane, suffering from multiple sclerosis.

His niece, Nicole Kurtz, described him as, “incredibly warm and loving.”  Others said he was distant and aloof.

Distant and aloof is right.  You see, though he died in November of 2002, no one discovered his body till two years later, in August of 2004!  His one-bedroom condo was tidy, the food in his fridge was spoiled, his wall calendar was two years out of date, and he was a mummy.  

So why did it take so long to find him?  For one thing, he was a recluse, he kept to himself, and had nothing to do with any family or friends.  For another, whenever his mailbox was full, the mailman just assumed he was on an extended vacation, and simply took it back.  

But the main reason it took so long to find him was that his pension check was automatically deposited, and his bills were automatically deducted from his account.  Even though he was dead, automated banking, “technology,” was keeping him “alive.”  To put it another way, even though he was virtually alive, he was physically dead.

In the words of Marcel Baril, executive director of the Family Centre in Winnipeg, “It’s odd that we live in a society where technology can take care of our affairs like that, even if we passed away two years ago, and nobody’s noticed.”

That’s just how it was with the fifth church of Asia Minor, the church in Sardis.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1312, as I read the words of our text.  Chapter 3, verse 1:  “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:  ‘The words of Him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works.  You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of My God.  Remember, then, what you received and heard.  Keep it, and repent.  If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.  Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.  The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.  I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

So far, we’ve touched on four of the churches of Asia Minor.  Ephesus was the “loveless” church, Smyrna was the persecuted church, Pergamum was the tolerant church, and Thyatira was the compromised church.

Now we come to a fifth church, the church in Sardis, the dead church.

The city of Sardis was an ancient city, dating back to more than 1200 years before Christ.  It was a fortified city, an impregnable city.  It was built on a mountain spur some 1500 feet above the valley floor, with high, sheer rock cliffs on three of its four sides.  It stood like a watchtower, guarding the entire Hermus valley.  Though many armies had laid siege across the centuries, only two were ever able to conquer it.

And it was a rich city.  You’ve heard the phrase, “As rich as Croesus”?  Croesus was the king of Lydia, and Sardis was his capital.  And because he was so rich, he lived in unlimited wealth and luxury.

And why was the city so rich?  For one thing, the people of Sardis were the first ones to learn how to dye wool in different colors.  That alone would have brought them considerable income.

A second reason is that the river Pactolus, a river that ran right through the middle of town, was a gold-bearing river.  One author wrote that, before the residents of Sardis went shopping, all they had to do was stoop down by the river and pan for gold.

And, not surprisingly, it’s where the concept of money was born.  Historians believe that the very first coins were minted there.

And somewhere in the middle of that rich, affluent, and impregnable town was the church of Sardis.  We have no idea who founded it, or how long it was there.  Yet it was to them that this letter was written.

As Jesus said in verse 1:  “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:  ‘The words of Him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works.  You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.’”

So what was the problem?  

Apparently, once upon a time, it had been a good church.  Once upon a time, the people were active, faithful, and kind.  That’s what Jesus said in verse 1:  “You have the reputation of being alive.”

But somewhere, sometime, something changed.  Maybe after a while, they didn’t want to ruffle any feathers with talk of human sin and eternal death, about Jesus being the only way to the Father, or about His life-giving death and resurrection.  And before long, they became the perfect model of a politically correct, inoffensive, middle-of-the-road kind of Christian church.

Even more, since they never threatened Satan or the world around them, Satan and the world never threatened them.

They were the church of the living dead.

It’s been said that our thirtieth president, Calvin Coolidge, was an extremely quiet and reserved man.  Whenever anyone asked him a question, he rarely answered in more than two or three words--a habit that earned him the nickname, “Silent Cal.”  The public saw him as a stiff and emotionless man.  Someone once said that he looked as if he had been weaned on a pickle.

And in 1933, when the radio crackled with news of his death, columnist Dorothy Parker was in her office at The New Yorker.  That’s when a colleague flung open her door and blurted, “Dottie, did you hear?  Coolidge is dead.”  

She answered, “How can they tell?”

How can you tell when a church is dead?

Experts say that churches often go through four stages of life.  The first stage is referred to as the “movement” stage.  It’s when a small group of close friends gather to form a church, and reach out to their community.  Nearly 100% of the members are thoroughly committed to the church and its mission.  They all come to Sunday School, Bible Class, worship, and Wednesday night activities.  The members are close and spend time in each other’s homes in fellowship and Bible study.  The church and its ministry is always the first thing on their minds.

The second stage is the “magnificence” stage, when the church reaches its highest attendance.  Because they’ve grown so large, they can do things that they could have only dreamed of before.  But the commitment level begins to dip to between 50 and 70%.  They dream big dreams, but the intensity begins to wane.

Next comes the “monument” stage,” when members still do things to increase growth, but talk less about the future, and more about the past.  They work to maintain their reputation.  And they do things because it’s the way they’ve always done them.  During this stage, commitment dips to between 10 and 30%.

Finally comes the “mausoleum” stage, when most of the founding members have either died or drifted away.  Attendance levels are low, and on any given Sunday, when new people show up, the older members wonder who they are and why they’ve come.

Clovis Chapel tells the story of a young preacher who was known for doing some rather eccentric things.  And during the first few years of his service at a church, he became discouraged and told his people that their church was dead.  And he announced that he planned to conduct a funeral for it the very next Sunday.

And when the members came that next Sunday, they saw a casket sitting right in front of the church.  Then standing beside it, he said, “Now some of you may not agree with me that our church is dead--so in order to convince you, I’m going to ask you to come forward and view the remains.”

So they all filed one-by-one to the front of church.  And when they looked inside the casket, they saw he had placed a mirror in the bottom.  When they looked in, they saw their own reflection.

When is a church dead?  When its past becomes more important than its present...when keeping a good reputation matters more than a bold witness for Christ...when talking about Christ matters more than knowing Christ...when convenience outweighs sacrifice...when it asks nothing, demands nothing, dares nothing, and dreams nothing.

That’s a dead church.

And what is Christ’s judgment on a dead church?  Verse 2:  “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.”  And verse 3:  “Remember, then, what you received and heard.  Keep it, and repent.  And if you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”

But there is some good news in this letter to the church in Sardis.  Verse 4:  “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.  The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.  I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

In his book, Impossible People, author Os Guiness tells of his last visit to a friend, John Stott, three weeks before he died.  For years, Stott had served as a preacher, Bible teacher, evangelist, author, global leader, and friend to many.  

And as they talked and shared memories from many years, Guiness asked how he would like him to pray for him.  And Stott, lying weakly on his back and barely able to speak, answered in a hoarse whisper, “Pray that I will be faithful to Jesus until my last breath.” 

And that’s all that any of us can ask--to be faithful to Jesus until our last breath.  And by His grace, and only by His grace, even our names will be written in the Lamb’s book of life.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

Dear Jesus, You once warned the church in Sardis to wake up, to strengthen what remained, and to repent and remember.  Help us, in our time and place, to be the church You’ve called us to be, faithful and forgiven, for Your sake.  Amen

Worship

Sunday 8:00 a.m. Worship

Sunday 10:30 a.m. Praise Worship

 

Bible Study

Sundays at 9:15 a.m.

 

Sunday School

Sundays at 9:15 a.m.